Before Sunday’s game against the Lions, Ravens rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers and Detroit’s second-year defensive quality control coach Wayne Blair hugged and took a photo together on the field at M&T Bank Stadium. Blair was an assistant coach at NSU University School in Davie, Florida, for the first three years of Flowers’ high school career, and this was the first opportunity to meet since they went to the NFL.
As the game began, Blair saw a lot more of Flowers, who had four catches for 75 yards in Baltimore 38:6 victory.
Flowers’ performance was also historic. He became just the second receiver since 1970 to rush for at least 50 yards in each of his first seven games in the league. The other? Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals star and 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
How did Flowers get off to such a fast start?
The answer is complex – from his obvious talent and speed to his feel for the offense to the way the Ravens use him. to a desire for greatness. All of this resulted in Flowers leading the team in catches (39) and receiving yards (442) to go with a touchdown.
“It’s probably been as good as it can be for seven games,” coach John Harbaugh said of Flowers’ understanding of coordinator Todd Monken’s plan. “He’s really hardworking. He’s very smart, and yet he’s not anywhere near where he’s going to be in terms of understanding the offense.”
There are also many other numbers that stand out on flowers.
For one thing, according to Next Gen Stats, he accounted for 27.8% of the Ravens’ air yards, which is 7% more than tight end Mark Andrews, the team’s leading receiver in each of the last two seasons. On the other hand, he shows dynamic ability as soon as the ball is in his hands. Flowers’ yards after catch above expected – that is, a player’s ability to generate more yards than would be expected based on the receiver’s openness, his speed of movement and the number of defenders, and other factors – is 0.5. To put that in perspective, this is currently performing better than Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, New York Jets receiver Garrett Wilson, Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and Arizona, among others Cardinal and former Raven Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
like flowers, whom the Ravens selected 22nd overall in April, Brown was a first-round pick. The Ravens selected Brown 25th overall in 2019, and two years later he delivered the first 1,000-yard season by a Baltimore wide receiver since Mike Wallace in 2016.
But Brown’s Ravens career was short – the receiver’s dissatisfaction with the offense led him to want out the Ravens traded him to the Cardinals during the first round of the 2022 draft.
Next Sunday in Arizona, Flowers and Brown will be on the same field when the Ravens (5-2) play the Cardinals (1-6). Both play prominent roles in their respective offenses, with Brown posting similar numbers (32 catches, 383 yards, three touchdowns) to Flowers this season.
However, Flowers is already on pace to surpass Brown’s rookie total of 46 catches for 584 yards. One of the many reasons why: His average cushion of 7.7 yards is the highest in the NFL, tied with Patriots receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cardinals wideout Michael Wilson.
Often times, teams have not pushed for flowers at the line of scrimmage, and that has proven costly. This also included Sunday.
Although Lions coach Dan Campbell Fox said in production meetings that Detroit needed to pressure the Ravens’ receivers, they rarely did so. Maybe it was because they thought they could pressure quarterback Lamar Jackson with defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and others along their four-man front. In other cases this was impossible due to the movement of the flowers. Whatever the reason, it didn’t take long for Flowers to press his advantage.
On the third play of the game and after a first-and-10 from their own 38-yard line, Jackson lined up with the shotgun, Gus Edwards was the lone running back, Odell Beckham Jr. wide right, and Andrews and Flowers piled up the right side to the left of full-back Patrick Ricard.
At the snap, Jackson faked a handoff to Edwards, who ran to the right flat, Andrews ran a short crossing route over the middle, and Flowers ran a dig route up the middle. With Andrews as a security blanket drawing the attention of linebackers Alex Anzalone and Derrick Barnes and safety Kerby Joseph driving downfield at tight end, Flowers was able to find an unoccupied patch of turf 20 yards down the field. Jackson hit him and Flowers did the rest for a 46-yard gain.
It was an easy completion given the formation, the play design and Lions cornerback Will Harris lining up 8 yards in front of Flowers and backtracking from there.
Flowers’ next catch was another dagger for the Lions’ defense.
As the end of the first quarter neared, with the Ravens already up 14-0 and facing a third-and-11 from their own 27, Jackson took the shotgun again, this time with running back Justice Hill next to him, Rashod Bateman wide right, Andrews in the right slot, tight end Isaiah Likely close left and Flowers wide left.
As Hutchinson tried to get past Morgan Moses, Hill hit a chip and kept it away just long enough for Jackson to find Flowers again. After Harris gave up 8 yards of cushion before the snap, Flowers drove vertically at the cornerback and delivered a shoulder fake to the inside before cutting to the sideline. When Jackson released the ball, Harris had his back to the quarterback and Flowers caught the pass and tapped it just out of bounds with both feet, making the lead 22.
Three plays later, Jackson went to Flowers again on second-and-1 from the Lions’ 13, and again there was no way to get to the 5-foot-10, 182-pound receiver.
Back out of the shotgun and with Nelson Agholor stacked close to the left and Beckham and Flowers wide to the right, Agholor moved through the formation before the snap and set up a bubble screen. With Beckham and Agholor blocking safety Tracy Walker III, Anzalone had the opportunity to break up the play from 4 yards out, but that’s a challenge Baltimore has to overcome every time. Flowers were faked inward, then cut back outward behind his two receivers, then inward again. He only gained 3 yards, but it was enough for a first down. Andrews scored on the next play.
Flowers’ final catch came with just over three minutes left in the first half, when the Ravens were up 28-0 with just a 4-yard gain, but it was another example of Harris taking it with him a 4-yard cushion played to the snap.
And even when he wasn’t catching passes, Flowers was a notable distraction.
Midway through the third quarter, with Baltimore facing a second-and-7 from the Lions’ 8, Flowers ran a short cross over the middle, drawing the attention of two defenders, including linebacker Jack Campbell. This left Andrews one on one with Walker, who released him inside. But with so much attention on Flowers, it was an easy pass to the open tight end in the back of the end zone.
“The plans were great,” Harbaugh said of the Ravens’ 503 yards of offense, including 357 yards through the air. “I felt like they did a great job and Todd deserves recognition.
“These plays are great plays, but they were well executed. It starts with the quarterback. Lamar goes in and out of the group and does things the way he did. … The offensive line deserves a lot of credit. That was a really good pass-rushing team, a power-rushing team that wants to throw you back to the quarterback and rush the quarterback into the cage, and Lamar had a lot of time there.”
And Flowers still had plenty of room to catch.
Ravens at Cardinals
Sunday, 4:25 p.m
Radio: 97.9FM, 101.5FM, 1090AM
Line: Ravens at 8 1/2